Fighting to get someone to understand that you really aren’t “just overreacting?” In my opinion, the best way is to educate them about the facts of your illness. So in this post we will look into a brief overview of the brain functions behind the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, and how these processes affect our behavior in ways that require more than self-control to counteract.
The Limbic System
The limbic system is a collection of brain structures including the amygdala and the hippocampus, among others. This limbic system is evolutionarily one of the oldest parts of the brain, so if you can imagine the idea of the stereotypical caveman and his brain function, you can imagine the importance of functions like survival instincts, the fight-or-flight response to predators or danger, memory, and a reward system for learning new behaviors. The limbic system uses an intricate balance of neurotransmitters to perform these functions as it communicates with and produces responses from the rest of the body. Responses like an increased heart rate, quick breathing, sexual arousal, and fight-or-flight are all associated with the limbic system.
Amygdala and Hippocampus
The amygdala and hippocampus have been shown to be smaller in people with Borderline Personality Disorder, using imaging like fMRI scans. These brain structures are related to memory recall and learning, attention, response mechanisms, emotional functioning, and the evaluation of social information like interpreting emotions from other people’s faces. As you’ve probably noticed, these are some of the main symptoms we struggle with as BPD survivors. It’s no wonder we have difficulties with interpersonal relationships and unprovoked mood swings!
Connected with the functioning of the limbic system is the activity of the prefrontal cortex. This area shows itself in fMRI scans to be underactive in the BPD brain. Linked to personality, planning, decision-making, short-term memory, and restraint of behavior while in an emotional state, low activity in the prefrontal cortex corresponds with symptoms like impulsivity and self-destructive behaviors. So besides being emotionally and physically over-aroused, we are logically impaired to make the best decisions for our own well-being or for healthy resolution to our problems.
In other words, we have a medical problem that requires medical treatment if we are to stand our best chances at lasting recovery. Medicine alone won’t cure us… We need to build new habits and new ways of thinking for healthy lifestyles and relationships. But there is little to be gained from therapy, counseling, or coaching, without the proper medical attention to the malfunctions we are experiencing behind the scenes in our most important organ: our brains.